The Obama administration has been rushing to complete a trade agreement with a dozen Pacific Rim countries including Japan, Canada, Malaysia and Vietnam, with key negotiations set to start next week in Salt Lake City. A bi-partisan group of more than 170 Democrats and Republicans sent letters to the president this week signaling their intent to oppose so-called “Fast Track” procedures (also known as Trade Promotion Authority) which would allow the White House to submit trade agreements to Congress without the opportunity to amend the deals.
Congress is wise to pause before giving the president carte blanche to negotiate new trade deals and wise to demand fuller consultation with Congress on the content of those deals. Fast track authority was first developed by the Nixon administration to rush trade agreements through Congress without threat of amendment. But deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the recently ratified Korea-U.S. trade agreement (KORUS) have failed to live up to expectations precisely because they are much more than simple trade agreements. These agreements are concerned with stimulating foreign investment and remaking a host of regulatory policies covering labor law, patents and copyrights, food safety standards, and state owned enterprises, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, telecommunications, and other service industries, as noted in a letter this week from 151 Democratic members of Congress to the president. KORUS and dozens of other trade and investment deals have resulted in a huge surge in outsourcing and have eliminated millions of jobs, especially in U.S. manufacturing.
President Obama promised that KORUS would support “70,000 American jobs from increased goods exports alone.” However, during the first year under the deal, U.S. exports to Korea fell, and our trade deficit with Korea increased, costing more than 40,000 U.S. jobs. Members have good reason to insist that “Congress, not the Executive Branch“ must determine when trade deals “meet objectives Congress sets in the exercise of its Article 1-[section] 8 exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade.” It is time to put an end to trade and investment deals that have cost millions of good U.S. jobs and contributed to the growth of inequality in the United States, and around the world.